A paper just out reports on the changing patterns of treatment for depression in the USA, over the period from 1998 to 2007.
The headline news is that it increased: the overall rate of people treated for some form of "depression" went from 2.37% to 2.88% per year. That's an increase of 21%, which is not trivial, but it's much less than the increase in the previous decade: it was just 0.73% in 1987.
But the increase was concentrated in. some groups of people.
Americans over 50 accounted for the bulk of the rise. Their use went up by about 50%, while rates in younger people stayed almost steady. In '98 the peak age band was 35-49, now it's 50-64, with almost 5% of those people getting treated in any given year.
Men's rates of treatment went up by over 40% while women's only increased by 10%. Women are still more likely to get treated for depression than men, though, with a ratio of 1.7 women for each 1 man. But that ratio is a lot closer than it used to be.
Black people's rates increased hugely, by 120%. Rates in black people now stand at 2.2% which is close behind whites at 3.2%. Hispanics are now the least treated major ethnic group at 1.9%: in previous studies, blacks were the least treated. (There was no data on Asians or others).
So the increase wasn't an across the board rise, as we saw from '87 to '98. Rather the '98-'07 increase was more of a "catching up" by people who've historically had low levels of treatment, closing in on the level of the historically highest group: middle-aged white women.
In terms of what treatments people got, out of everyone treated for depression, 80% got some kind of drugs, and that didn't change much. But use of psychotherapy declined a bit from 54% to 43% (some people got both).
What's also interesting is that the same authors reported last year that, over pretty much the same time period ('96 to '05), the number of Americans who used antidepressants in any given year sky-rocketed from 5% to 10% - that is to say, much faster than the rate of depression treatment rose! And the data are comparable, because they came from the same national MEPS surveys.
In other words, the decade must have seen antidepressants increasingly being used to treat stuff other than depression. What stuff? Well, all kinds of things. SSRIs are popular in everything from anxiety and OCD to premature ejaculation. Several of the "other new" drugs, like mirtazapine and trazodone, are very good at putting you to sleep (rather too good, some users would say...)
Marcus SC, & Olfson M (2010). National trends in the treatment for depression from 1998 to 2007. Archives of general psychiatry, 67 (12), 1265-73 PMID: 21135326